- Time and date: Saturday, October 1 at 12:00 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPNU
- Location: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium — Memphis, TN
- Spread: Memphis (-19.5)
- ESPN FPI: Memphis has 92.2% chance to win
- All-time series: Temple leads, 4-3
- Last meeting: Temple 34, Memphis 31 — October 2, 2021
- Current streak: Temple, 1 (2021)
Setting the scene
Memphis led 17-0. Everything was pointing in the direction toward a victory for the heavily favored Tigers, especially after forcing Temple to turn it over on downs twice in the first 18 minutes of action. Yet, the Owls continued their aggressiveness on 4th down, converting twice in critical situations on their ensuing possession. One of those conversions was at the goal line where Jadan Blue made a spectacular one-handed grab to put Temple on the scoreboard.
That touchdown was the turning point. Memphis squandered its 17-point advantage by halftime and Temple surged in the second half to secure a 34-31 victory. The Tigers, which blew 17+ point leads in back-to-back weeks, eventually recovered to finish .500+ for the seventh straight season. Temple wasn’t as fortunate and suffered a 7-game losing streak which finally concluded Week 2 of this season.
The Owls, which lead the all-time series 4-3, have been a thorn in the Tigers’ side since the programs started sharing AAC membership in 2013. However, history favors the home team in this series, as the host has posted a 5-0 record since 2015.
Last year’s matchup occurred in the City of Brotherly Love, which features iconic landmarks such as the Rocky Statue and the Liberty Bowl. This year, the series shifts to a city renowned for its barbecue and the the Bass Pro Shops Pyramid — the sixth largest pyramid in the world.
Temple Owls outlook
Temple (2-2, 0-0 AAC) is one victory short of matching its 2022 win total under first-year head coach Stan Drayton. Things were off to a rocky start when appearing on the wrong side of a 30-0 shutout against Duke in Drayton’s debut, but the Owls have looked vastly improved the last three weeks. Last Saturday, Temple became the first FBS team to emerge on both sides of a shutout, giving UMass a taste of that medicine in a 28-0 decision.
The Owls haven’t established a high-flying offense under their new staff yet, but the defense is certainly making its presence felt early in the season. Temple is situated 18th in the FBS with an allotment of 15 points per game to opponents. The run defense has performed well, limiting ball carriers to 3.2 yards per carry to rank in the upper quartile of the FBS. Meanwhile, the Owls allow the fifth fewest passing yards in the country, but that is more by design than dominance as only the defenses of Colorado and Tulane have witnessed fewer passing attempts thus far.
Rushing the passer is Temple’s greatest asset. Outside linebacker Layton Jordan ranks among the nation’s elite in the sack department, registering 4.5 (tied for sixth in FBS) to go along with seven tackles for loss. Fellow linebackers Jordan Magee and Tra Thomas have joined Jordan on his backfield invading endeavors, combining for four sacks and nine TFLs. Meanwhile, true sophomore Darian Varner — one of six Owls’ rewarded with a signature single-digit number in August — brings the heat from the line with two sacks and six tackles for loss to his name.
The good news for Temple’s defense: there are still areas of progress to address. The Owls have only forced two interceptions and zero fumbles through a third of the regular season, so improving turnover output can further solidify their defensive rank.
On offense, the Owls already changed quarterbacks as true freshman E.J. Warner (son of Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner) supplanted the incumbent D’Wan Mathis as the starter. Mathis has since moved to wide receiver, where he hauled in his first collegiate catch last week.
Warner demonstrated efficient play against Temple’s FCS opponent Lafayette, and in his first two starts against Rutgers and UMass, the true freshman posted collective stats of 30-of-54 (55.6%), 388 passing yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. As expected with most teams breaking in true freshmen quarterbacks, the passing game is still a work in progress, checking in at 109th in the FBS.
However, it’s the running game which has been the most alarming facet of Temple’s offense. Averaging 91.8 yards per game at 2.8 per carry, the Owls rank 121st in the country. And it’s not like sack numbers are skewing their rushing numbers, as Temple’s offensive line has been fairly stout this year allowing just three sacks. To ignite the rushing game, the Owls might insert their most mobile quarterback Quincy Patterson in certain packages to keep defenses on their toes. Outside of Patterson, Edward Saydee and Texas A&M transfer Darvon Hubbard should split carries when countering a much-improved Memphis run defense.
Memphis Tigers outlook
Memphis (3-1, 0-0 AAC) didn’t start its season on the right footing when Mississippi State exacted revenge on the Tigers in 49-23 fashion. However, the Tigers have reverted to the high-scoring, explosive offense brand of Memphis football we’ve seen throughout the past decade. In year three under head coach Ryan Silverfield, the team enters AAC play riding a 3-game win streak, averaging 41.7 points per game during that span.
While the Tigers have lost nearly every piece from their 2019 AAC championship squad by now, they’ve reloaded nicely on offense under Silverfield. True sophomore quarterback Seth Henigan was a pleasant surprise in 2021 and is a major reason why Memphis’ offense is rolling to the degree it is right now. Henigan has conspicuously improved his efficiency, connecting on 67 percent of passing attempts after completing a hair under 60 percent as a true freshman. The Dallas area native proved his ability to take over games as a passer, firing for 415 and 360 yards in wins over Navy and Arkansas State, complemented with an aggregate five touchdown passes in those contests.
Henigan displays an impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio of 8-to-1, and his numbers haven’t fallen off at all despite the loss of his primary receiving targets from 2021. Without Calvin Austin in the lineup, the quarterback has distributed the ball evenly throughout a myriad of options as his top four receivers — Gabriel Rogers, Eddie Lewis, Javon Ivory, and tight end Caden Prieskorn — range from 12 to 15 receptions this year. Prieskorn is taking over as the team’s most lethal red zone threat, totaling four touchdowns in his last three outings to lead all receiving options on the roster.
Just like in the receiver room, the running back distribution is also relatively balanced. Sophomore Brandon Thomas, Memphis’ 2021 rushing leader, serves as the lead back but receives ample support from Northern Illinois transfer Jay Ducker and third-year Tiger halfback Asa Martin. The running game hasn’t taken over a game yet, but it’s looked more promising the last two weeks with Thomas and Ducker picking up greater chunks of yardage on carries. So far, the team has yet to eclipse 191 yards this season, and that will be a challenge against a stout Temple front seven.
Memphis’ identity through the Justin Fuente and Mike Norvell eras was always the offense and that continues to be the case as the team has fully transitioned into Silverfield’s tenure. The Tigers’ defense ranks 101st in the FBS in points allowed per game at 32, yielding 32 and 34 points to Arkansas State and North Texas in its last two showings, despite emerging victorious.
All-AAC free safety Quindell Johnson is the headliner of the unit, and he’s off to a magnificent start as the conference’s interceptions leader and solo tackles leader. Johnson creates havoc all over the field, accounting for three takeaways this year with career numbers featuring eight interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
However, other faces in Memphis’ secondary must step up to pull the Tigers out of the nation’s cellar when it comes to passing defense. Memphis surrenders more yards through the air than all but eight teams in the FBS — and that includes an outlier performance where Navy’s triple option attack managed just 99 passing yards. Forcing turnovers hasn’t been an issue for the Tigers, gathering nine takeaways through four games. But Memphis’ cornerbacks must improve their coverage and tackling, especially near the boundaries, in order for the Tigers to shine in AAC play.
This feels like a game that plays out fairly evenly in the first half, with Temple’s defense recording stops while the offense attempts to establish a passing attack against Memphis. However, the Tigers will emerge in the end due to the presence of a blossoming star in Seth Henigan. Henigan has a bevy of options Temple must account for, and Memphis’ rushing attack is respectable enough to keep the offense multidimensional.
Still, expect Temple to put up a strong fight by virtue of its front seven. The Owls will challenge Memphis’ offensive line and make things as difficult as possible before the Tigers’ offensive explosiveness ultimately becomes the deciding factor.
Prediction: Memphis 34, Temple 21